Georges Rouzeau - 2011-09-13
The turret clock in Paris’s Hôtel de Ville, a masterpiece of 19th century horology, is kept in perfect condition by a dynamic young clockmaker.
With his Day-Glo green Ralph Lauren polo shirt, low-slung jeans and Italian-style shoes, clock-maker Antoine Walter, 30, couldn’t be farther from the French stereotype: a moustachioed old fellow from Morteau in the Franche-Comté region who squints through a pince-nez as he repairs a broken cuckoo…
Walter caught the horology virus when he met a clockmaker during a course at La Monnaie de Paris, where his father works. At 19, he enrolled in the Atelier d’Horlogerie (the Clockmaking Atelier) of the city of Paris. Since then, he has devoted his life to maintaining these captivating timepieces. His mission has taken him from schools to barracks, from swimming pools to town halls, from public baths to parks and gardens and from churches to pawnshops. The city has had many public clocks which have been doing their best to chime through the centuries since 1650.
During the European Heritage Days, Antoine Walter will present thecrown jewel of Paris’s horological heritage: the City Hall clock (la pendule de l’Hôtel de Ville), located on the building’s fourth floor. The Paris Council approved its installation on 22 May 1882. The original clock dated from 1612; a second, manufactured by the Henry-Lepaute family in 1782, was destroyed by a fire set by communard revolutionaries in the mid-19th century.
The sons of the Henry-Lepaute family put the finishing touches on the current clock just in time to present it at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair. Directly after, it was placed in City Hall’s central bell-tower, where it still officiates upon a patinated bronze pedestal. Made of pewter, steel and bronze, this one-and-a-half ton clock functions thanks to a pendulum and a weight pulley that must be regularly reset. Thermal variations cause the weight system’s metal to dilate and contract, leading to slight modifications which are corrected by clockmakers who rely on the four beeps that mark the hour on French public radio. This magnificent machine, featuring mechanical pieces that weigh as much as 60 kilos, was entirely renovated over an eight-month period in 2001.
Antoine Walter, the guardian of centuries-old French horological savoir-faire, takes the face off the clock with freshness and skill. It’s high time for a visit!
General website of the European Heritage Days (English):
Website of WHD activities in France (French only):